Spend a little time talking with Jose Buenrostro and you’ll notice his repeated insistence that he’s not unique. Spend a little time listening to Jose Buenrostro’s story and it’s abundantly clear he is exceptional.
A junior Sacramento State Construction Management Engineering major, Jose claims he’s “just doing what everybody else is doing,” and in some sense that’s true – as in, he seems literally to be doing what everybody else is doing. All of it: pursuing a degree; working; commuting; raising a family; coaching youth soccer.
Jose, 30, the first in his family to attend college, is determined to build a better life than that typically ordained for a child of farm workers – and to set an example for others that they can do the same. He moved closer to his goal of becoming a project manager overseeing construction of commercial buildings when he was awarded the 2010 Associated General Contractors President’s Scholarship, worth $5,000.
“While Jose certainly is an exemplary student, he’s somewhat emblematic of the program we have in that we have a lot of students who work really hard, keep good grades and have jobs in the industry, and a lot of them have families, too,” says Justin Reginato, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. “But he seems able to balance more of each better than anybody I’ve taught in six years. He doesn’t sleep a lot, is my guess.”
Jose’s is a remarkable and inspiring story of perseverance and dedication. The critical foundation was set by his parents, who toiled in the fields of Watsonville and instilled in him a grinding work ethic. Jose worked with them for three years as a teenager picking strawberries, and besides further absorbing the lessons and values of hard work, he learned he wanted more for himself. Academics were a sure path out of the fields, so the always advanced Jose applied himself fully. As a high school sophomore, he won a scholarship to take Pre-Calculus at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and took Advanced Placement Calculus as a junior and Calculus II at Hartnell College in Salinas his senior year.
He managed all this despite huge hurdles. Strawberry field work is seasonal, and when strawberry season in California ends, migrants commonly head to Mexico, where the work is. Many students at Jose’s schools were children of migrants and would miss months of schoolwork and never catch up. He, however, took coursework with him to Mexico, kept pace with it and returned without missing a beat.
He gained admission to UCLA out of high school. But his parents, Hilaria Cruz and Jose de Jesus Buenrostro, had to dedicate all their finances to raising Jose and his brother Michael, and Jose was naïve about the financial aid system. So he had to bypass UCLA’s offer of admission and instead enroll at Hartnell College for the Fall 1998 semester.
In summer 1999, he and his then-girlfriend, Rosie, discovered she was pregnant. Barely an adult himself, Jose faced a major adult decision: to put college on hold and go to work. He lightened his course load and picked up more hours at his bulk retail job, and in February 2000 Rosie gave birth to a son, Joaquin. Jose eventually left school altogether in Spring 2002 – and acquired another job.
He essentially was working from 1:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. when his dad started a construction firm in 2003. Jose quit one job, cut the other to part time and went to work for his dad part time. In spring 2004, he became a full-time construction laborer and fell in love with the job. That led him back to Hartnell, where he re-enrolled in Fall 2006 to pursue an Associate of Sciences degree in Construction Management, which he acquired in Spring 2008.
He initially looked into transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but when he contacted Sacramento State, Margaret Wade, the Civil Engineering Department’s administrative support assistant, made him feel very welcome and he was intrigued. After talking to her about the program, he was sold. “If not for her friendliness and professionalism I might have gone somewhere else,” he says.
But he wasn’t going to uproot his family, which by now lived in Carmel Valley, so Jose relocated alone to Sacramento. Each weekend, however, he motorcycles home to his family, and in the fall he coaches the soccer team Joaquin, now 11, plays for. Meanwhile Rosie, whom he married in 2005 and who has an A.S. in Business Administration with an emphasis in Accounting, works 50 hours a week as a Human Resources Supervisor, and also as a server at five-star restaurants on weekends. “She’s literally my backbone,” Jose says.
Hectic as his life may be, Jose keeps it in perspective by thinking of his brother. Michael, 28, is a Green Beret on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. “He truly is my inspiration,” Jose says. “Not because he is my brother but because he has put his life on hold for all of us. … I want to be better every day because of people like him.”
Jose is extremely grateful to the Associated General Contractors of California, Sacramento Construction Management Education Foundation and the Sacramento Regional Builders Exchange for the help they have given him in pursuit of his dreams. When he graduates, he wants to hit the ground running. His five-year plan is to be a project manager overseeing construction of commercial buildings. Meantime, he’ll keep pursuing his degree – which he’s on track to receive in Spring 2012 – working for Tricorp Hearn Construction, and through it all somehow remaining an active family participant while living 200 miles away. So while he might view what he does as “nothing compared to what other people do,” it’s clear that Jose Buenrostro is, in fact, quite something.